26 Feb 2012

PantheaCon 2012: Unity, Diversity, and Me!

Posted by brenda

PantheaCon is an annual Pagan spirituality conference held in San Jose over President’s Day Weekend.  During the four-day conference, thirteen meeting rooms play host to rituals, workshops and performances held over eighteen 90-minute sessions (and this is just the official conference programming).  People come to PantheaCon to come together in community with fellow Pagans, to participate in transformational rituals that they might not be able to experience in their own home towns, to learn from top Pagan authors and leaders, and to party!  According to Monday morning’s “PantheaCon Daily Oracle,” 2,331 people were registered for this year’s Con.  Each one of us approached the Con from a different angle, bringing diverse needs to the event, and taking vastly different impressions home with us.  These impressions are gradually appearing all over the internet, and they paint a beautiful picture of Diversity and Unity, as well as the need for growth in both.  Looking back on the weekend, I see the theme of Unity in Diversity as the next step in our community, a goal that we are pushing toward.  It is through truly delving into our diversity, really understanding the various traditions and customs within the grander scheme of Paganism that we can come to a place of Unity.  I approached the weekend with a goal of participating in various styles of rituals, especially the kinds of rituals and experiences that I would not usually go to, either because of my comfort zone or because I don’t know people who host these types of rituals.  There are many stories that will come out of the Con… this is my story!

We arrived at the Con at 12:30pm, and immediately I felt like I recognized and “knew” everyone that I saw.  The lobby and Con registration were starting to get busy with people checking in, combined with people-watchers and those waiting to connect with old friends as they arrived.  By the time we left the lobby, we ran into several people that we knew from home, recognized from other events, and people that we connect with throughout the year on social media.  Notable in our lobby welcome crew were both Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt Blog and Devin Hunter from Modern Witch Podcast.

While I was very tired from the early morning ride up to San Jose, the energy and excitement was building throughout the Con, and I wanted to get right in and take part in it.  Although I rested through the opening ritual, I was in line and ready to attend Selena Fox’s “Triple Goddess Magic: Inner Guidance Quest” during the first session of the Con.  My first impression- if you ever have a chance to be in Selena’s presence, especially in ritual, take it!  During this session, we learned physical postures to connect with each aspect of the goddess, asked each aspect for a message, deeply communed with each aspect, and then brought each aspect together to receive a message and symbol in our minds to connect to the Divine Triple Goddess.  It was an excellent way for me to start the weekend feeling invigorated and connected to the Goddess and to those who were in the workshop with me!  Unity was alive and humming in my soul!

At the late afternoon session, I attended Mary Greer’s “Who are you in the Tarot?”  This workshop featured Greer’s thesis from her most current book Who are you in the Tarot?, which is that we are all represented in the tarot by two to three cards which correspond by numerology to our birthdate.  After participants fumbled over the math to determine their numbers, we all separated into groups to talk about what our numbers mean to us.  At the end of the session, each group came up with a mantra to represent our group.  As a 3/12/21, I learned how to work with the Empress, Hanged Man and World cards.  Our group’s mantra was “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”  I went to dinner feeling abuzz, radiating “LOVE” energy, which stuck with me throughout the Con and the days since!

I ended my day by attending the “Conjurers, Root Women, Vodou Queens and Hoodoo Mamas” ritual led by The Iseum of Black Isis.  This ritual was so incredibly beautiful, powerful, joyful!  I have never attended an African Diaspora ritual, and I am so glad that I went with the theme of “Diversity” to give this ritual a try.  There was so much love in the room as each goddess was sung for, and ultimately, as we were each crowned, shown  Hathor’s mirror and reminded that we are all not only part of the goddess, we are part of the first mother of us all, the Black Isis.  This ritual resonated Unity in Diversity in my heart throughout the weekend, and the songs have remained with me throughout the week.  Yeshe Rabbit has written a lovely blog post on this ritual, which can be found on her “Way of the Rabbit” blog.

On Saturday morning, I began my day at the “Wake up to Spirit” ritual with the Come As You Are Coven.  This ritual always gets me started on the right foot, with beautiful songs, dancing, and most important to me, an opportunity to look in each person’s eyes present to give and receive the blessing that “The Divine in Me Honors the Divine in You.”  This ritual truly spoke to the message of Unity in Diversity as we came together to honor each other, recognizing our differences, yet knowing that on a deep level, we honor each other and the divinity that we each hold inside of us.

Energized, I headed to vending to look around, where I had my first of several opportunities to chat with Mojo and Sparrow of the Wigglian Way Podcast.  They are fabulous people and I was so happy to get to talk to them throughout the conference.

To round off my morning, I attended the “Bast: The Great Cat Goddess” ritual led by Avia Moore and the Priestesses of Stone City.  In this ritual, Bast was called into the room to play and cuddle with ritual participants.  We jumped, meowed, danced, and unfurled balls of yarn.  The man next to me ended up with a bloody nose after getting bonked a bit too hard in the spirit of play.  According to the PantheaCon program, Priestess Avia is the daughter of the Stone City Founders.  I’m not sure how old she is, but I’m guessing she’s a late teen, and the room was absolutely beaming with pride when she closed the ritual by stating that this was her first ritual as priestess.  This ritual spoke to my goal to go outside of my comfort zone and to seek out playful rituals.  There was definitely a sense of Unity in the room, even as we bapped at each other and tugged at the strands of yarn!

Saturday afternoon, I attended Christopher Penczak’s “Ritual of the Green Devil.”  This was a rather intense ritual that led us down the seven gates, through the chakras, exploring the seven deadly sins alongside seven virtues, where we ultimately found ourselves back in Eden- an Eden that we had never lost, even though we might have lost the map to get there.

Saturday evening, we decided to explore an area of the Con that held some mystery for us- the Hospitality Suites!  We stopped in and talked to people in various rooms, and while I’m glad that I challenged myself on a personal level to visit the suites (I’m not a party kind of gal!), it still felt awkward, like we’d crashed someone’s party and we weren’t quite sure how to fit into the conversation.  We ultimately found ourselves at the Circle of Dionysos pre-ritual party, where we met Dr. Hayden Reynolds and we got the hint that the ritual was going to be themed to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I cannot imagine a better way for me to let my guard down with a group of strangers than to the tune of “The Time Warp,” so I grabbed a drink, tried to chat it up with some people, and prepared for a fun night. 

I give an enormous amount of credit to the Circle of Dionysos for the amount of work that went into this ritual.  Many of us know how much work goes into writing a ritual for a large audience, however, most of us don’t know what it’s like to write a ritual that almost everyone already knows the lines to, plus includes people shouting back lines at you based on the lines and actions that may or may not go with the re-written words of your script.   I felt it was important to share a bit more about the ritual here than some of the other sessions that I attended because it adds to the Gender Identity discussion that follows the Con.  After the ritual, I briefly told Dr. Hayden Reynolds that I would mention the ritual on the PNC, so here goes!

“A Modern Dionysian Initiation,” held by the Circle of Dionysos, was a re-telling of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The ritual followed Brad and Janet, who were trying to find the drum circle “after announcing their engagement to the group of teenagers playing Dungeons and Dragons on the tenth floor.”  Brad and Janet stumbled into the Dionysian lair where Dionysos’ “creature” (a gigantic dildo) was born.  The Circle performed nearly the entire movie, live, without the screen version to fall back on.  They re-wrote the story to include characters from Greek Mythology, cut a few scenes and songs here and there, and re-worked the story to fit the PantheaCon audience, including the line “Gods Bless Tranies and Queers” in the pool scene, rather than “God Bless Lily St. Cyr.”  The end of the ritual was extremely powerful, as Zeus and Hera prepared to leave for Olympus.  As we know from Rocky Horror that Frank (or in this ritual Dionysos) doesn’t get to go along.  In the ritual, Dionysos and his friends don’t take this lying down, and he confronts Hera, telling her “We are the new Gods, and you will accept us.”  I was touched by power in this line delivered by DK Cowan.  The overall theme of this ritual was an excellent example of Unity in Diversity all rolled in to one, both for me personally and for the Con.  I would have never stumbled across a ritual of this nature on my own, and I am very thankful for the opportunities available at PantheaCon to experience such an event. 

Sunday afternoon, I attended the workshop “Grandmothers as our first Goddesses” with Victoria Slind-Flor.  This was a touching workshop where we took a guided meditation to meet with our grandmothers, visit with them, and ultimately honor them by making poppets of them and telling their stories to one another.  During this ritual, I spoke to my grandmother and gained some great insight into my personal calling and my goals for personal growth and healing.

Later in the afternoon, I attended Pagans in the Media: A panel on modern Pagan leadership, led by Devin Hunter.  I believe that Devin plans to play the recording of this panel discussion on “The Modern Witch Podcast,” so I’ll defer discussion on this panel, except to say that I found the discussion inspiring and enlightening (so go listen to the recording!).

I rounded out my Sunday at the “Rite of the Bear Mother,” led by The Living Temple of Diana and the CAYA Grove of Artemis.  This ritual was very important to me personally, as I had identified it in my own mind as the opportunity to come full circle with work that I have been doing over the last two years regarding my own personal growth and healing.  The ritual was quite powerful and healing.  Since this ritual was born out of the controversy last year regarding gender identity, I truly believe that the ritual was carefully constructed to fit the theme of Unity in Diversity.  There was an absolute sense of Unity in the crowd, which was palpable, and quite healing.  Events surrounding the ritual added to the dynamic of the need for ongoing discussion about diversity.  Both Devin Hunter and YesheRabbit have written blog posts about their experience with this ritual, which you can find here and here.

I woke up Monday very sad to greet the waning hours of PantheaCon.  I packed up the room as best I could and headed to my final workshops.  Along the way, I ran into various friends who I had met throughout the weekend and said my “goodbyes.”  I got a lipsticked kiss on the cheek from a sweet young man I had befriended on Saturday morning.  I promised him I would see him next year, and that I would be sure to run up to him and give him a hug when I did.  I made my way over to the “Belly Dance for Fun and Magick,” workshop, but sadly, the presenter never showed up.  Apparently there was a miscommunication with programming, and she didn’t know that she had a session scheduled.  Unity in Diversity shined through at that very moment when one of the workshop attendees offered to lead us in some simple moves to get our bodies moving.  We are all leaders in one way or another in our Pagan community, and this fact shined through as we all danced and shimmied the hour away together.

My final session was the “Yeshe Tsogyal Devotional,” led by Yeshe Rabbit.  Once again, I am brought back to the theme of Unity in Diversity as I think back to this ritual, which was so different from any ritual I had ever been to, yet still spoke to my heart and touched me deeply.  When I say “different,” I acknowledge that I have never been to an Eastern tradition ritual such as this.  Rabbit shared the full text of the ritual on her blog, along with some additional background information, which I recommend taking a look at.  I was very touched by the personal sharing that took place in this very intimate devotional ritual, and I plan to learn more about Yeshe Tsogyal.  As a representation of the “Speech of the Buddha” and the ways that I have learned that she has empowered others, I can see working with her in my work with empowering women would be helpful.

After lunch we packed up the car and headed south.  It took us three hours of deep discussion to re-connect and share about our weekend with one another, and it has taken me much of the week to process everything emotionally and come back down to earth.  My weekend was very blessed with unity, diversity, new and old friends, healing, challenge, and love!  I hope that you enjoyed hearing about my weekend, and that it gives you a fresh perspective on PantheaCon.  I know I’ll be back again next year, and I hope to see many of you there as well- I’m counting down the days until we do the Time Warp again!

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